Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 1994--Fifteen Years Later

Fifteen years ago Thursday, the players walked out.

No doubt, for some of you reading this, August 1994 stirs up memories you'd rather not revisit.

For others--like myself--there is no overriding memory of the 1994 strike; as an eight-year-old I knew a) baseball existed and b) the Yankees were the good guys. I didn't know any of the players (except Babe Ruth), and it would be another year or two before I thought the bad guys were the Braves.

Fifteen years later, however, we all know a lot more.

We know, for instance, that the Montreal Expos would never again be a first place team. If it happened today--if the Nationals were a first place team (they have won seven straight, which is weird enough in its own right), and the players went on strike, someone, somewhere would joke that the players were striking because such an anomaly could never be allowed to occur.

We know now that the Yankees would have to wait an extra year just to return to the postseason, and that Don Mattingly, like Dan Marino and Mike Mussina, would never get that ring as a player.

We know now that Frank Thomas is still a Hall-of-Famer-to-be, but his slash stats of .353/.487/.729/1.217 at the start of the strike meant he was on pace to do something historic. He did win the 1994 MVP award; it wasn't exactly a close race.

1994 was not the first time professional athletes, or even baseball players, struck, and it certainly won't be the last. The NBA had its famous lockout in 1998; the NHL lost the entirety of the 2004-2005 season (and may never fully recover) and if the NFL isn't careful, things might get interesting in just a couple of years.

As always, any time such a thing happens, it is the fans who end up suffering.

If you're reading this blog you probably feel the way I do--that baseball isn't just a game, it's a way of life. Sure, it's a different life for a player as opposed to a writer or a fan, but it's still a way of life.

The fan doesn't get paid millions of dollars to watch the game; in fact, the fan spends, sometimes thousands, just for the privilege of watching the game.

Fans do come back, but it takes a while. What if 1995 had the same attendance numbers as 2008?

Fifteen years since the ballparks went dark on a summer night, there is only one lesson to be learned, basic, simple and true, and the same one that consoled me in November 2001:

It doesn't matter if you win or lose.

All that matters is that you play.